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Author's Chapter Notes: Not entirely certain about this chapter, but I felt that it had to be written; best to get this issue out of the way before Elizabeth goes back to Atlantis, after all…

Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘Stargate Atlantis’ or any related concepts or characters; you know the drill by now. Also, the basic details of the plot were inspired by ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, although I have naturally put my own spin on things; hope it meets with your approval

Feedback: Always appreciated, trust me
Mystery of the Phantom

Even Elizabeth wasn’t sure how it had happened, or how she had come to the decision to do this in the first place, but the facts remained what they were; here she was, on her first real ‘day off’ since she’d arrived in Atlantis over a year ago- as the final authority for pretty much any major decision in the city without the ability to contact Earth, it was practically impossible for her to have a day off in the Pegasus Galaxy-…

And she was sitting in front of the house she had purchased with Simon when they’d made the decision to move in together, trying to decide how to phrase what she was about to say in what would almost certainly be her last conversation with the man she’d been prepared to spend her life just over a year ago.

She’d had a lot to deal with before she reached this point, of course; the talks with the various diplomats responsible for overseeing the Stargate Program alone had taken her several hours to get through, even if it had been far easier than what the reports said about the original meeting to introduce the Stargate to other foreign powers. The Chinese delegates were still disgruntled at the whole thing, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that the Russian delegates were eventually going to ask for more than what the SGC would be willing to share with them, but in general the whole thing turned out to be very cordial.

In the end, even the death toll sustained during the siege hadn’t been met with that much shock.

Actually- and ironically, in Elizabeth’s opinion-, the thing that attracted the most attention was the reason for the low death toll at the time; the presence of the Phantom and his control over- and knowledge of- Ancient technology.

As much as they acknowledged the merits of his assistance so far, the general consensus of the delegates agreed with Sumner’s original assessment of the Phantom; as a dangerous renegade element in a situation where stability was paramount for survival, it was vital that he be apprehended so that they could determine his true agenda and learn what else he might know about the city for future defence purposes. They were resupplying the Atlantis armoury with any Earth-originated weaponry Sumner’s staff had confirmed was particularly effective against the Wraith- anti-aircraft guns, taser guns, that kind of thing-, but none of the delegates, for all their other minor disagreements, seemed to differ in their belief that the Phantom’s knowledge was a resource that they had to have access to as soon as possible.

Elizabeth was just grateful that she didn’t have to worry about anybody trying to replace Sumner with someone who’d enforce tighter restrictions on the city in his efforts to find John; as it was, Sumner’s attitude towards finding the Phantom so far had apparently only increased the delegates’ willingness to recommend that the city’s senior staff remain unchanged.

Admittedly, the additional military forces they were receiving at this time might make it harder for John to stay hidden in the city, but given Sumner’s implied willingness to accept the Phantom’s presence in their last encounter, the situation could definitely be worse…

…And Elizabeth had to stop thinking about everything that had happened in the recent conferences; there wasn’t any point to thinking about that stuff now.

She’d done what she could at the meeting and it had all gone as well as she could have expected; the main thing was that everyone who had come through the Stargate- with the obvious exceptions of Kavanagh and Peterson, assuming anyone would even miss them after the way they’d been the last few months- were going back to Atlantis, even if John would now ‘officially’ find it harder to get around…

She had to stop this; going over a concluded meeting wasn’t helping anything. All that thinking back on it served to do at this point was distract her from what she should be thinking about right now; specifically, the state of her relationship with Simon and the reasons for her presence here.

After spending the past year on virtually the other side of the universe from the man she’d agreed to marry before she was given the assignment at the SGC, during which she should have- according to all conventions regarding relationships- spent that time thinking about him, she’d barely thought about him more than maybe a dozen times of her own accord when some outside circumstances- mostly medical-related- hadn’t directed her thoughts towards him.

No matter what she might have felt for him before travelling to Atlantis, it was fairly clear to her that any feelings she may have had for him in the past weren’t a factor in any relationship she had with him any more.

She couldn’t entirely understand how she’d reached this point herself, but she could hardly help how she felt; here she was, about to face Simon again for the first time since leaving Earth (Not counting that meeting she’d had with him in that illusionary world created by those ‘cloud creatures’)…

And all she could find herself thinking about was a man in a mask and a cloak who killed people with an ease that should have terrified her, hadn’t shown her what he looked like underneath the mask, and hadn’t even told her his last name (A part of her reflected that he may not have even given her his first name, but she pushed that aside; whatever else she might be, she knew when people were lying to her, and she remained certain that John had been telling the truth about his first name)?

It didn’t make sense…

No, Elizabeth told herself, stopping that train of thought before it could develop further. It does make sense… you just don’t want to admit how it makes sense.

The ease with which she’d started wanting to learn more about the Phantom was a point of concern, she knew- John certainly wasn’t the type of person she’d have ever pictured herself… thinking about… in this kind of context-, but in the end it was just the final catalyst rather than anything else; what she was about to do had had the potential to happen long before she even heard of the Stargate…

If she was perfectly honest with herself, no matter how much she might have worked to think otherwise, she had never been completely certain about the relationship with Simon from the beginning.

If she’d been as committed to him as she’d believed she was in the past, surely she never would have left for Atlantis in the first place; her later realisation about the lack of interest he’d shown in her work had only served as a further catalyst for the train of thought that had led her to this position.

Her subsequent… thoughts… about the Phantom since encountering him in Atlantis might have left her interested in learning more about him, but even trying to pass them off as nothing more than curiosity about a man whom she possessed so little background information about didn’t change the fact that she’d spent more time in the past year trying to spend time with the Phantom than she’d ever spent looking for opportunities to be with Simon in the year before leaving Earth.

She’d spent more time with Simon than she’d spent with the Phantom over that time frame, she wasn’t denying that, but when she looked back at her time with Simon, the vast majority of their meetings had been little more than the usual encounters you’d expect to have with someone who shared the same residence as you. They’d shared more than the occasional meal together, and there’d been the… nights… as well, but somehow… she’d never felt the same kind of spark she felt whenever she was spending time with the Phantom; the feeling that she was simultaneously treasuring everything about his presence and wishing she had more to say to him.

When it came to Simon, in the end, his main appeal for her back before she’d left for Atlantis had been the fact that he was… safe, she supposed was the best term for it; she had always known he’d be there for her, and thus didn’t have to worry about the risk of him hurting her, either deliberately or unintentionally.

As reassuring as that aspect of his personality had been… it wasn’t what she was looking for any more.

Elizabeth wasn’t sure how it happened, but, at some point during her time in Atlantis, she’d reached a point where she didn’t recognise who she’d been when she’d left; all that she knew for certain now was that, while she still appreciated certainty in her life, the type of stability that a life with Simon had offered no longer appealed to her any more.

Whether it was just spending a year facing the threat of an alien race who consumed your very life energy, spending a year in the constant presence of the military, or simply spending a year knowing that she had a city with its own personal superhero- it might be a childish term, but how else was she to think of a man in a mask who helped keep Atlantis safe?-, she felt that she’d become less…

Na´ve, was the best term she could use; looking back, the woman she’d been before hadn’t really understood what she was getting into back then.

It wasn’t that she’d stopped believing in diplomacy, but her confrontation with the Genii in particular had taught her that sometimes you couldn’t depend on diplomacy to get you out of a situation; sometimes, you had to rely on a more physical approach to get the job done…

In the end, the fine details about why she wasn’t who she had been didn’t matter; all that mattered, in the end, were the reasons she was here

Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth stepped out of the car and walked towards the house, taking a deep breath before she knocked on the door, taking a deep breath as she waited for a moment before Simon finally opened the door.

As she looked at him, staring uncertainly at her- her earlier phone call to let him know she was back hadn’t been particularly straightforward, but she’d at least been able to deal with the obvious questions of when she’d come back-, she could only smile back at him.

“Hello, Simon,” she said at last, already kicking herself for the statement; how was it that she could negotiate treaties between warring nations on her coffee break but couldn’t seem to straighten out her personal life to any real degree? “I know this is… short notice, but…”

“Elizabeth?” Simon asked after she’d stood on the door in silence for a moment, evidently confused by her actions. “Is… something wrong? I… I mean, I got your message, but you didn’t…”

Registering the evident discomfort on her face, Simon trailed off himself, the two of them simply standing and staring at each other as each of them tried to decide what to say next.

“Look, this is… can I come in?” Elizabeth asked at last, looking at Simon with a regretful, uncertain smile that she had a feeling told him what she was there to say more than any words could.

The fact that Simon almost automatically fell silent and nodded as he stepped back to allow her in confirmed Elizabeth’s earlier theory, but simultaneously strengthened her resolve to continue.

She was in the house; now it was up to her to say the words that would end her life here for good.

“Simon…” she said, pausing for a moment to collect her thoughts one last time as she looked at him, trying not to think about a man with a thinner build who somehow managed to look stronger than Simon ever had, who had been there for her at a time in her life like nothing she could have ever imagined. “Before I go any further, I have to tell you that I’ll always… care for you, and I have enjoyed our time together…”

“But…?” Simon said after another moment’s silence (God, Elizabeth hadn’t been this uncomfortable when she was alone with the Phantom, and that man had shot peoples’ limbs off).

“But… this…” Elizabeth continued, waving a hand in a vague manner that even she wasn’t sure about the purpose of- was she ‘indicating’ the house, or was it a general reference to Earth itself?-, “it isn’t who I am any more. I’ve… I’ve changed, Simon; who I was here… with you… I’m not sure I recognise that person any more…

She paused for a moment, wishing there was a better way to say this, but knowing that Simon had to hear it. “And… I’m not sure that who I am can be with you the way I was back then.”

“Is this… anything to do with the fact that I haven’t signed up?” Simon asked, looking at her with a slight uncertainty (Elizabeth did recall asking the SGC to see about recruiting Simon for the Atlantis medical staff, but she hadn’t been sure if they’d go for it; in the end, it had almost been done more out of habit than anything else). “It’s just that… well, I’m still making up my mind; I have patients here, responsibilities…”

“It’s not that,” Elizabeth responded, shaking her head briefly to cut him off. “I understand that you have responsibilities here, and I’d never ask you to leave them if you thought you could do more good here than there, but in the end…”

She swallowed slightly, unable to believe what she suddenly found herself about to say. “There’s someone else.”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she couldn’t believe she’d uttered them.

Someone else

A ‘someone else’ who went around in a mask and a cloak, practically never spoke to her unless there was some upcoming crisis or urgent piece of information he needed to pass on to her, had only given her a name that could just as easily be fake as it could be real, killed with an ease that she consciously knew should have terrified her…

And yet, at the same time, John, or the Phantom, or whatever he wanted to call himself, represented a mystery that she wanted to solve, a question that she wanted to answer… and a man who lived his life with such an intensity and passion for everything in it that a part of her, she only now realised, couldn’t help but wonder how it would feel directed at her.

Even if she knew so little about him, when she was close to him…

When he looked at her…

What she felt during those moments was so confusing, so uncertain, so… indefinable… that she already knew she’d be no good in a relationship with another man until she’d had the chance to sort out her feelings for the most mysterious man she’d ever met.

“Oh,” Simon said, his expression unreadable as he looked back at her. “I see.”

“I didn’t plan it, and nothing’s… happened yet,” Elizabeth said, suddenly needing to assure him that, whatever else had happened, she hadn’t been unfaithful to him. “But… even if he wasn’t there…”

She swallowed, her throat suddenly as dry as if an entire desert had been dumped down it, before she slightly shook her head to push those thoughts aside and looked resolutely at Simon. “This… isn’t who I am any more, Simon. I’m sorry.”

“I see.”

That was all Simon said to her, but the sorrow he was feeling was obvious.

“You… you shouldn’t be,” Elizabeth said at last, trying to sound reassuring even as she knew how hollow what she was saying would sound in this situation. “Trust me; who I am now isn’t who you fell in love with. It might be… harsh… now, but it’s for the best in the long run.”

“I… see…” Simon said again, nodding slightly at her before he stepped back, indicating the house. “Do you… need anything?”

Elizabeth could only shake her head at that; most of her more personal possessions had been moved into storage in the SGC before she went to Atlantis, and what was left at Simon’s wasn’t anything that couldn’t be easily replaced later on.

“Goodbye,” she said one last time, before she turned around and walked out of the house, leaving that part of her life behind herself for good.

At least with the Simon situation dealt with she could get back to the problem of sorting out some of her new staff requests; Doctor Jackson alone would make a valuable addition to the team, but the problem lay in being able to convince General O’Neill to allow him to leave the SGC in the first place…

Those were the issues she had to focus on now.

Those were the issues she was meant to focus on.

If only concern for the man in the mask she’d left back in her city didn’t constantly sneak into her thoughts whenever she thought about the alien world that had become her home…

Chapter End Notes: 2: So, just to check, is there anything else on Earth anyone wants to see, or shall I just get on to the new take on “Intruder” next chapter and leave Earth in the past?

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